In the past three years, there has been a 25-percent increase in student demand for Boston College University Counseling Services (UCS), pushing usage of the service to over one-in-five students. Without an increase in administrative hiring within the department, this trend has led to an overwhelmed UCS. Following an anonymous donation and the March 11 approval of the 2016-2017 budget from the Board of Trustees, however, UCS will add an additional full-time permanent staff psychologist and full-time clinical postdoctoral fellow for fall 2016, Vice President of Student Affairs Barbara Jones said. There are currently thirteen full-time staff members, and eight part-time.
“There is ever-increasing utilization of the UCS resources by the BC community,” Craig Burns, interim director of UCS, said in an email. “Our mission at UCS focuses on reducing mental health barriers to student success.”
Burns will be in charge of the hiring process of the new psychologist, while the postdoctoral fellow will be determined through a national process in which the fellows look at schools of their interest, while they interview those interested in BC, and then a matching process takes place. The postdoctoral positions are also one-year positions, and will change each year.
The position for the postdoctoral fellow came as a result of an anonymous donation, which granted the position for a four- to five-year time period starting in the fall, while the position for the psychologist is permanent and was derived from the extraordinary budget process from the Board of Trustees.
“It’s not every year that you get a position approved and so it’s pretty exciting when it does happen,” Jones said, adding her hopefulness for the expansion of the department. “We think the two new positions will allow us when we’re at our peak time and students are at their peak stress to get students in more quickly and provide services that we’re already providing but in a way that gives the students more opportunities.”
As a result of the increase in the number of students UCS has seen for initial intake appointments, follow-up appointments, and emergency appointments this year, the department has had to work on meeting the needs of students and engaging students in new ways, Burns said in the email. Burns explained that this flexibility has included the implementation of focus groups for first-generation college students at BC, collaborations with the Undergraduate Government of Boston College to spread awareness of mental health issues and of the resources available on campus, work with the Office of Health Promotion to support it in offering skills for managing anxiety, and continued work from UCS’ Diversity Committee to understand and meet the needs of the full range of students on campus.
“This is happening all over the country. University counseling centers and mental health services are being inundated with requests for services, which is a good thing that students feel more comfortable seeking psychological services.”
-Associate Vice Provost and previous Director of UCS Thomas McGuinness
Despite the new tactics, Burns said that UCS still made a request for increased staff, which was supported and officially requested by the Board of Trustees by Jones. Associate Vice Provost and previous Director of UCS Thomas McGuinness explained that he also requested an increase in staff last academic year, when he was still in office. He also said he made the argument for an increase in positions for many years throughout his time at UCS.
“We at UCS are gratified to see that our resource is one which is both highly utilized and recognized as highly valuable by the University,” Burns said. “We believe that the addition of two more clinicians will help decrease the wait for initial intakes, and increase the range of services we can offer.”
Though the two new positions are welcomed by the office, concerns remain. Burns explained in the email that he has found when there is increased availability, there is often increased demand, as well.
“It’s nice, but it’s still not enough,” McGuinness said. “You could double the staff and they’d still be busy.”
UCS currently has 21 clinicians, with a breakdown of 10 full-time psychologists, three full-time postdoctoral fellows, three part-time psychologists, two part-time social workers, and three part-time psychiatrists for BC’s 9,154 undergraduate students, and the UCS has between 350-375 attended appointments in a typical week.
Meanwhile, the University of Notre Dame’s counseling center consists of a senior counseling staff of 13 members, one psychiatrist, one consulting nutritionist, two staff counselors, three psychology interns, one practicum counselor, and four administrative staff members for its 8,448 undergraduate students. Georgetown University’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services are composed of seven staff psychologists, three psychology externs, one psychology staff, two psychology associates, two social workers, one staff psychiatrist, and two psychiatry residents for its 7,595 undergraduate students.
Burns also said that students can always be seen that day when there is an emergency need, and initial appointments are scheduled within 1-2 days, while intake appointments given to assess the condition of the student are typically available within 10 days. Both McGuinness and Jones noted that after the initial intake process, however, students can wait up to two weeks for an appointment at busy times of the year.
Burns noted that the increased group offerings at UCS this year were put in place as a way to meet a wider range of students’ mental health needs. Still, McGuinness explained that last academic year as director, he implemented group therapies as a pilot as well, but found that students did not do well in these settings and did not want to open up in groups.
The continual increase in demand at UCS comes as a product of various causes, both McGuinness and Jones explained.
“This is happening all over the country,” McGuinness said. “University counseling centers and mental health services are being inundated with requests for services, which is a good thing that students feel more comfortable seeking psychological services.”
McGuinness said that, in addition, more students are coming in with previous experience in the mental health system. While the need from UCS continues to increase, the number of students entering BC with diagnosed mental health issues and/or who are on psychiatric medications is increasing, as well. McGuinness also said that there’s a lot of research that is coming out showing that students are more depressed and anxious than in the past, as well as that there is less resiliency among certain students, with an overall movement toward greater impairment of students. Simultaneously, on Tuesday, March 29, Inside Higher Ed published an article citing a study recently released that stated that students on college campuses where there is “wide support for mental health issues” are over 20 percent more likely to receive services for mental health issues and 60 percent more likely to receive that help on campus. As a result, UCS requires greater support and resources to meet this demand, but also other resources need to be utilized, McGuinness said.
The push for increased resources at UCS has also been a goal of UGBC, which dedicates an entire committee to mental health. UGBC President and MCAS ’16 Thomas Napoli and Executive Vice President and MCAS ’17 Olivia Hussey included the increase in staff as a part of their campaign’s Big Five goals.
“This is a tremendous victory for BC community members, especially those who struggle with mental illness.” Napoli said in an email, in reference to the new hirees.
Molly Newcomb, co-director of UGBC’s mental health committee, director of UGBC’s mental health policy, and MCAS ’18, explained that she believes the new positions added come as a result of the efforts that students have put toward giving voice to mental health issues, noting the work students in UGBC have done, as well as students involved in groups such as To Write Love on Her Arms.
“I really think that it goes to show that students have made this a priority and administrators have realized it is important for all students and that that need is there and very present on campus,” Newcomb said.
Graphic by Abigail Paulson and Kelsey McGee